GAZA: Palestinians inspect the damage to a building in Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on April 18, 2024. - AFP
GAZA: Palestinians inspect the damage to a building in Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on April 18, 2024. - AFP

Mideast on brink amid ‘humanitarian hellscape’ in Gaza

GAZA: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday painted a dark picture of the situation in the Middle East, warning that spiraling tensions over the war in Gaza and Iran’s attack on the Zionist entity could devolve into a “full-scale regional conflict”. Guterres also said the Zionist military offensive in the Gaza Strip had created a “humanitarian hellscape” for civilians trapped in the besieged Palestinian territory.

Meanwhile, the Zionist entity launched more deadly strikes on besieged Gaza on Thursday as Western governments unveiled sweeping sanctions against Iran’s military drone program. Further stoking tensions, Iran warned on Thursday that if the Zionist entity struck Iranian atomic sites during its expected retaliation, Tehran would in turn target Zionist “nuclear facilities”.

“The Middle East is on a precipice. Recent days have seen a perilous escalation — in words and deeds,” Guterres told a high-level Security Council meeting, with several foreign ministers present, including from Jordan and Iran. “One miscalculation, one miscommunication, one mistake, could lead to the unthinkable – a full-scale regional conflict that would be devastating for all involved,” he said, calling on all parties to exercise “maximum restraint”.

Iran unleashed a barrage of missiles and drones on the Zionist entity over the weekend, after an attack on its consulate in Damascus widely blamed on the Zionist entity. Zionist officials have not said when or where they would retaliate, but the country’s military chief has vowed a response.

Guterres condemned both the consulate attack and the flurry of drones, saying that the latter constituted a “serious escalation”. “It is high time to end the bloody cycle of retaliation,” he said. “It is high time to stop. The international community must work together to prevent any actions that could push the entire Middle East over the edge, with a devastating impact on civilians. Let me be clear: the risks are spiraling on many fronts.”

For Guterres, de-escalation of the situation would begin by ending fighting in Gaza, where at least 33,970 people have been killed, according to the health ministry in the territory. “I reiterate my calls for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and the immediate release of all hostages held in Gaza,” Guterres said. “In Gaza, six and a half months of (Zionist) military operations have created a humanitarian hellscape,” he lamented, and while he said the Zionist entity had made “limited progress” on allowing more aid into the territory, he called for more to be done.

“Our aid operations are barely functional. They cannot operate in an organized, systematic way; they can only seize opportunities to deliver aid whenever and wherever possible,” he said. “Delivering aid at scale requires Israel’s full and active facilitation of humanitarian operations.”

Guterres’s speech came as the Security Council was poised later in the day to vote on a Palestinian bid for full UN membership — an initiative that seemed destined for failure in the face of opposition from the veto-wielding United States. The UN secretary-general also called on the Zionist entity to put a stop to settler violence in the occupied West Bank, after Zionist attacks in dozens of Palestinian villages. “I call on (the Zionist entity), as the occupying power, to protect the Palestinian population of the occupied West Bank against attacks, violence and intimidation,” he told the Security Council.

And more than six months into the bloodiest-ever Gaza war, the Zionist army said it had bombed dozens of targets in the territory, as Qatar said efforts to broker a truce have stalled. Zionist Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stressed that the Zionist entity “reserves the right to protect itself” against Iran.

The United States, the Zionist entity’s top ally and military supplier, has made clear it won’t join any Zionist attack on Iran, instead unveiling new sanctions on Thursday against the country’s military drone program. “We are holding Iran accountable,” US President Joe Biden said, adding that he had discussed ramping up economic pressure on Tehran with other leaders at a G7 meeting in Capri, Italy.

The US sanctions target 16 people and two entities involved in producing the drones used in Iran’s attack, as well as companies providing parts to the country’s steel industry. Washington added that the United Kingdom would impose sanctions on Iran’s drone and missile program, which was also the target of promised sanctions announced by the European Union on Wednesday.

The Zionist entity has yet to reveal how or when it will carry out its promised retaliation against Iran. US broadcaster ABC News, citing three unnamed Zionist sources, reported the Zionist entity had “prepared for and then aborted retaliatory strikes against Iran on at least two nights this past week”. Among the range of possible responses considered by the Zionist entity were an attack on Iranian proxies in the region or a cyberattack, the sources told ABC.

A high-ranking Iranian general warned the Zionist entity against attacking Iran’s nuclear sites. If this did happen, then “the nuclear facilities of the regime will be targeted and operated upon with advanced weaponry,” said Ahmad Haghtalab, the head of Iran’s Nuclear Protection and Security Corps. However, Tehran has also sought to calm tensions through indirect diplomatic channels with its other major adversary, the United States. Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, in New York for a UN meeting, said Iran had “tried to tell the United States clearly” that it is “not looking for the expansion of tension in the region”.

Iran’s attack on the Zionist entity “is succeeding in taking the focus, particularly the media spotlight, off of the Gaza famine and the Gaza war,” Roxane Farmanfarmaian, a Middle East and North Africa specialist at Cambridge University, told AFP. Gaza’s civil defense said Thursday it had recovered 11 more bodies in the southern city of Khan Yunis during the night.

Also bombed by the Zionist entity was the far-southern city of Rafah, where Gaza rescue teams recovered the corpses of eight family members, including five children and two women, from a single house, the civil defense service said. “All of a sudden, a missile hit them,” said neighbor Abdeljabbar Al-Arja, who spoke of finding the arms and feet of women and children. “This is horrifying, it’s not normal.”

Talks toward a ceasefire have stalled, said Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, despite months of effort also involving US and Egyptian mediators. Qatar is undertaking “a complete re-evaluation of its role” as mediator because the country had been targeted by “point-scoring” by politicians, he said. – Agencies

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